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Duke Ellington—A Model for Leadership

Yesterday I met with a young partner I used to coach. When she initially came to me for help she was working around the clock and feeling overwhelmed. We then discovered that her main problem was a near-complete inability to delegate. It’s been a challenge, but she has since learned to entrust her associates with increasing responsibilities, and has even gained enough confidence to assume that they can deliver to her expectations. (Trust is the essence of successful delegation.) The result is that she is no longer micromanaging and is able to focus on the bigger picture—the things that will move her career forward—allowing her to become a much more effective leader.


Since I just returned home from a jazz festival, the subject of delegation and leadership reminded me of the jazz legend Duke Ellington, who led one of the most remarkable bands (consisting of a diverse group of opinionated and gifted individual musicians) for over 50 years. One of his techniques was delegation—he gave every person in his band his own section of the piece in which to shine. Not only did this allow him to be a better leader, it made his band members supportive followers because they had the chance to showcase themselves and feel important and appreciated.

For more on Duke Ellington’s leadership, see this video.

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